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Many bushwalkers have intense interest in and affection for the wild and natural places into which they venture.
Bushwalking experiences can be greatly enriched by knowledge of local plants, animals, geology and history. This information is available in many bushwalking and field guides available for specific areas.
Group members who can identify particular plants or animals and stimulate group members to observe unusual specimens contribute to the knowledge of others on the trip.
People who develop a greater interest in and understanding of the natural environment usually become stronger advocates for its preservation.
Natural ecosystems and protected areas
A natural ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the non-living components of their environment that are linked together and interact through nutrient cycles and energy flows to form a balanced system.
Human existence is dependent on the survival of the natural ecosystems which supply air, water, food and shelter.
Natural ecosystems and protected areas also serve as natural buffers against climate impacts and other disasters, providing coastal protection, regulating water flow and flood dispersal, stabilising soil against landslides and blocking storm surges.
Improved protection and management of natural habitats protects carbon stores and the biological resources and ecosystem services on which human lives and livelihoods depend.
Natural ecosystems are ecologically stable in large, unfragmented areas that can support bigger populations of plants and animals and a greater diversity of species than a similar area divided into small islands.
Large animal populations are at less risk of inbreeding and are better able to accommodate changes in their habitat. Sizeable areas can securely protect the habitats at their core and resist external influences better than small areas with convoluted borders.
Wildlife in large reserves is more readily able to migrate away from areas damaged by bushfire or degraded by drought, flood or infestation.
Large natural ecosystem areas with high diversity of species have considerable resilience. They often have the capacity to recover from disasters which could destroy small populations or monocultures. Healthy natural ecosystems provide invaluable insurance against major environmental degradation or even extinction.
Natural ecosystems are also a reservoir of potentially valuable genetic material which could be used for the production of new products, foods and medicines.
Natural ecosystems are also havens for emotional and physical renewal in an increasingly urbanised society.
Degradation of these systems can result in the lowering of air and water quality, soil fertility, and can compromise the existence of diverse plant and animal species.
Individuals can influence events and actions at the local level. Each one of us has some impact on the areas in which we live and the places we visit. It is highly desirable that this impact be positive rather than negative.
Minimal impact bushwalking and skiing provides information on and actions to minimise impact to the areas bushwalkers and ski tourers visit.
Protection of ecosystems
There is continuing political conflict over the preservation of large, intact, diverse ecosystems within protected areas such as national parks.
Scientists and conservationists often work together to preserve areas for their biodiversity.
Bushwalkers, other outdoor recreational users and local communities seek to protect bush, alpine and coastal areas for their landscape values.
Miners, loggers and other interest groups often portray reserves as unnecessary, unmanageable and having adverse economic impacts.
Finding a balance between the demands of various groups is a constant challenge for governments and land managers.
Below is a summary of some challenges relating to land use and amenity for bushwalking, ski touring and other outdoor activities.
- The impact of climate change on Australia’s natural environment is apparent with increased frequency and severity of droughts, extreme weather events, catastrophic bushfires and changing wet seasons.
- The traditional bushwalking season of summer in southern and eastern states has become increasingly risky with very high temperatures, lack of water and increased frequency and severity of bushfires.
Reference: Climate change and escalating bushfire risk, Climate Council
Logging native forests
- Logging native forests provides some timber (e.g. hardwood) and woodchips for paper production.
- Old growth forests and their natural values are destroyed when they are logged and burnt.
- Logging destroys the habitat of vulnerable and endangered species such as Leadbeaters Possum.
- Logging activity can spread pathogens such as the cinnamon fungus (Phytophthora cinnamomi) which attacks the roots of native plants.
- In the longer term logging significantly decreases water runoff into streams and rivers.
- Logging roads, tracks and operations damage natural areas.
- Replacing native forests with monoculture plantations greatly reduces biological diversity.
- Chemicals applied to plantations can pollute water resources.
- Harvesting of plantations can impact native animals if it is poorly managed.
Water catchments and dams
- Water catchments are needed for water supplies.
- Logging in water catchments significantly decreases the quality and quantity of water they yield.
- Provide areas where natural values are retained and access is tightly managed.
Roads and power lines
- Roads provide access to bush and remote areas, but they can be intrusive and cause fragmentation of habitats.
- Roads provide passages for weeds and vermin into remote areas.
- Power line easements that traverse bush and forests can have great visual impact.
- Mining provides resources for economic development.
- Mining activities often cause visual degradation and habitat destruction, reducing flora and fauna diversity.
- Mining waste can contaminate surrounding areas and water courses if it is poorly managed.
- Mining can disrupt the water table and compromise underground water supplies.
- Livestock eat and trample vegetation, including vulnerable species such as bog plants.
- Cattle introduce weeds by bringing in seeds that are excreted in their faeces.
- Cattle trample creeks and bogs and their faeces pollutes water sources.
- Over the long term, cattle and sheep grazing reduces and changes flora and fauna diversity.
- Cattle and sheep grazing has been banned in National Parks in Australia
Tourism, resorts and developments
- Mass tourism can detract from experiences in remote and wilderness regions and increase the likelihood of spreading pathogens.
- Commercial developments compromise the value and purpose of national parks and impacts public use.
- Ski resorts and private lodges situated in alpine areas provide opportunities for resort based skiing but extensive buildings, ski lifts and cleared ski runs are an eyesore and replace native vegetation.
- Motorised vehicles, including four wheel drives, trail bikes and ski mobiles can interfere with the peace of others and cause erosion.
- Picnic grounds, camping and parking areas can accumulate rubbish and become degraded.
- Helicopters detract from bushwalking and ski touring experiences in remote and wilderness regions.
- Can save lives by providing shelter in bad weather
- Can lead to a concentration of people at a location
- May also have toilets which minimise the area over which faecal matter is spread
- Can attract less experienced and ill-equipped people into dangerous situations.
Formed tracks and markers
- Provide clear routes that can prevent less-experienced groups becoming lost
- Can shift activity away from and restrict damage to sensitive areas and critical habitats
- Can detract from the experience of remote and wilderness areas
- Can provide routes for feral animals, weed and pathogen dispersal.
All types of outdoor recreational activities can result in environmental damage including:
- Forming of illegal tracks and subsequent erosion
- Littering, especially around campsites
- Spreading of weeds.
Conflicts between users can include:
- Noise from motorised vehicles and generators
- Damage to tracks
- Shared use dangers; e.g. bushwalkers, mountain bike riders, hunters and motorised vehicles.
- Control the usage of areas to prevent excessive and inappropriate use
- Impose access costs.
The following four internationally recognised environmental principles have been developed by the European Union to inform legal and political frameworks that aim to minimise the ill-effects of human activity on the environment.
1. The precautionary principle
- Triggers policy intervention in circumstances where there are reasonable grounds for concern that an activity is, or could, cause harm but where there is uncertainty about the probability of the risk and the degree of harm.
2. The prevention principle
- Aims to prevent environmental damage; such as to protect species or natural habitats, water and soil; rather than to react to it.
- Supports the need to take measures to address issues today rather than allow their consequences to fester leading to higher costs and increased risk in the future.
3. The rectification at source principle
- Seeks to prevent pollution at its source rather than remedy its effects.
- Environmental damage should to the extent possible be rectified at source.
- Policy should tackle the root of the problem rather than simply tackling its consequences.
4. The polluter pays principle
- Those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment.
Reference: Environment policy: general principles and basic framework, European Parliament
Environmental awareness and campaigns
Wilderness and natural areas around the globe are extremely limited and continue to shrink. Bushwalkers, as major users of these areas, have a strong interest in conserving them in their natural state.
Bushwalkers and ski tourers can familiarise themselves with local environmental issues and protection measures in the regions they visit and advocate for them.
Many community and environmental organisations champion particular environmental and land management causes and run community-based campaigns.
If you feel strongly about a particular issue and would like to get involved in a campaign, ask appropriate groups and/or individuals about their policies and methods and opportunities to contribute.
Beware of Astroturfing – the deceptive practice of misrepresenting an orchestrated marketing or public relations campaign as a “local grass-roots community campaign”.
Collaboration with other outdoor recreational users on joint campaigns can improve outcomes for protection and preservation of natural areas.